The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is soliciting nominations of veterinary service shortage situations for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) for fiscal year 2015.

The VMLRP is intended to assist young veterinarians in repaying their student loans, thus encouraging them to set up practice and provide vital services to farmers and ranchers in rural areas identified as having a shortage of food-animal veterinarians.

A series of reports from the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA, the Government Accountability Office and the National Academy of Sciences have shown that while veterinarians overall are not in short supply in the United States, many rural, farming communities have inadequate access to veterinary services. And, as fewer veterinary students plan careers in food-animal practice, the supply is likely to continue its decline.

The USDA notes that private-practice food animal veterinarians, working closely with livestock producers and State and Federal officials, constitute the first line of defense against spread of endemic and zoonotic diseases, introduction of high consequence foreign animal diseases, and other threats to the health and wellbeing of both animals and humans who consume animal products.

When the VMLRP was first authorized in 2005, the average graduating educational debt of veterinarians was approximately $75,000. But today, according to a 2014 AVMA survey, the average debt has more than doubled to approximately $162,000.

This USDA notice, released on November 19,initiates a 60-day nomination period and prescribes the procedures and criteria to be used by State, Insular Area, DC and Federal Lands to nominate veterinary shortage situations. Shortage situation nominations, both new and carry over, must be submitted on or before January 20, 2015.

For more information about the nomination process, view the full announcement from the USDA.